The date of Independence Day, Thursday March 24, 2016, had been contrived by the Scottish Government on the basis of the electoral cycle rather than a realistic assessment of how long negotiations might take. But after Scotland narrowly voted Yes, there had been a typically disciplined SNP approach to meeting that constitutional deadline.

So at a special midnight ceremony at Edinburgh Castle, the Union flag was lowered and a Saltire raised in its place. There was much lofty rhetoric about Scotland finally regaining its place among the family of nations but even eloquent speeches could not disguise the considerable gap between what had been promised 18 months earlier and what had ultimately transpired.

The negotiations, however, had been surprisingly businesslike and, at least on the surface, amicable. Paragraph 30 of the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement was much quoted, committing the UK and Scottish governments “to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom”.

But of course those “interests” weren’t mutual, and as the campaign for the 2015 General Election got under way, the new Conservative leader George Osborne (David Cameron having fallen on his sword after losing the referendum) promised to get the “best possible deal for the people of England” (Wales and Northern Ireland), but that was not a deal that necessarily benefitted Scotland.

In England and Wales the Conservatives won a landslide, while in Scotland the SNP enjoyed a clean sweep. At that point, the independence negotiations began in earnest, the election having prevented anything beyond discussion of general principles. Ever the pragmatist, Mr Osborne U-turned and agreed to a currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK), but with strings attached.

Although Scotland could continue to use sterling, the Bank of England would have to sign off its spending and borrowing, and that necessarily limited the Scottish Government’s room for fiscal manoeuvre. By this point, the price of North Sea oil had also begun to slide, putting enormous pressure on the SNP given its long reliance on this to make its “economic case for independence” stack up.

There had, however, been a minor victory: given rUK’s insistence on being the sole “successor” state, Prime Minister-designate Alex Salmond had managed to exempt Scotland from any share of the UK’s debt. And while this hadn’t got him out of the red, it generated enormous political kudos (as had the agreed currency union) and enabled the SNP to claim, like Mr Osborne, that it was securing the best possible deal for the nation.

But not being a “successor” state also meant finding itself outside the European Union, with only rUK “automatically” remaining a Member State. Scotland immediately applied for membership and the resulting negotiations, as the former European Court judge Sir David Edward had predicted before the referendum, were essentially political. Grateful that one part of the (former) UK seemed committed to the European project, the EU told Spain to drop its objections and set about accommodating what would be its 29th member.

Again, there were strings attached: no share of the UK’s long-standing “rebate” and a commitment to joining the single currency in due course, although this was widely considered academic. All of this, however, took a very long time, and by 24 March 2016 Scotland found itself, like Norway and Iceland, a member of the European Economic Area rather than a full Member State.

On Independence Day, meanwhile, other aspects of the “headline” settlement (the fine print, as in the case of Czechoslovakia, would likely take another decade to sort out) were beginning to sink in: Trident was to remain on Scottish shores for another decade (a quid pro quo for currency union), while rUK would also retain control of certain air and naval bases until a Scottish Defence Force was up and running.

Most painfully, the Barnett Formula was to end immediately, a key commitment in the 2015 Tory manifesto. On this point reality collided most starkly with the rhetoric. Although Mr Salmond had won an impressive victory when it came to debt, he still couldn’t disguise the fact Scotland would now have significantly lower levels of public spending than it had enjoyed since the 1970s. Desperate, meanwhile, to find a substitute for North Sea oil revenue, he had begun to champion fracking as zealously as he once had renewable energy.

But sections of the SNP’s swollen membership base didn’t like that at all, nor the SNP’s decision to ditch decades of “social democracy” and instead pursue a low-tax, low-spend economic model to compete with Mr Osborne’s economic policies. Deputy Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon did her best to sell this as a “progressive” move, but the rhetoric had started to wear thin. It was certainly “radical”, but far removed from what voters had been led to expect.

Protests had already begun against spending cuts, most brutally to the culture and local government budgets. This was an inevitable consequence of the new economic reality and conditions demanded by the EU for membership. Although muted before Independence Day, many ministers feared these could soon turn nasty, reminiscent of anti-Poll Tax demonstrations in the late 1980s.

With his usual confidence, Prime Minister Salmond (watched by Princess Anne, Scotland’s new Governor-General) tried to remain upbeat. “This is a great opportunity; an historic opportunity,” he told those gathered at Edinburgh Castle, “Will everything be flowing with whisky and oil and will everything be perfect? No, it won’t all be perfect; I dare say we’ll make a few mistakes along the way.”

Easter followed Independence Day, giving Scots time for reflection and somewhat muted celebrations. For some all that mattered was that independence had been achieved; for others it looked like all their “scaremongering” had come to pass. Another group was more pragmatic, willing to see how things would develop. Ireland, meanwhile, was preparing to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, a reminder that independence was certainly possible, but usually had a difficult birth.